Adventus

"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

"And they were each one quite odd..."


This started life as two posts, but the second presumed the first had been published.  I decided, then, to make an unwieldy marriage of the two.

One of the dangers of going to seminary is that you might learn to release the limits on your empathy, and when that happens, where do you stop?

Fatima, just shy of her teenage years, was scarred when she witnessed the death of her best friend in Syria three years ago. She worried that if she made new friends, she'd see them die too. "It's hard for me to forget. I saw so many bad things in Syria," Fatima said. She's unsure whether it was a sniper's bullet that killed her friend—the memories are still painful for Fatima. She was walking with the girl to the market to fetch food for her family in Homs, a Syrian city devastated by the country's civil war. Fatima went into a shop, heard a noise behind her, and when she turned around she saw her friend lying dead in the street.
The PBS Newshour just the other night ran a story about people in Paris getting therapy after the attacks there; about how they will need psychological help to cope with what they saw, what they experienced.  I saw the story and thought, "Yes, that's good they get that.  But what about the Syrians?"

And then the universe, or God, or a particularly perverse wave of coincidence (take your pick) drops the above in my lap, by way of Charlie Pierce.

Fatima, I'm happy to say, is getting some counseling at the camp in Lebanon where she lives now.  But how many Syrians don't get such counseling?  As the article points out:  this is an entire generation of Syrians, not just a handful of Parisians.  Numbers don't really matter, except in terms of impact; and what will the affect on that generation do in the world?  Violence spreads like a contagion.  "Those to whom evil is done/Do evil in return."  And 'round and 'round we spin it, and here in America, to our eternal shame (or it should be; it will be forgotten by New Year's), we are so afraid of "terrorists" our would-be leaders fear toddlers and want refugees to remain offshore permanently, because it's the only way to be sure.

The other side of that movie quote is just waiting for some GOP candidate to pick it up and declare our "final solution" to the problem of the "Middle East."  It's the only thing they haven't advocated yet, I don't know what they are waiting for.

In fact, what our leaders are doing is so much worse than that:

In a letter sent to President Barack Obama this month, Mr. Christie said he had directed the state's Department of Human Services to not resettle any Syrian refugees in New Jersey and that nonprofit organizations were to notify the state of any Syrian placements in New Jersey. The practical meaning of the governor's position isn't clear. The U.S. Department of State oversees the screening and resettlement of refugees. States, however, have a role in passing federal dollars to local charities working on the efforts. The Christie administration began a preliminary assessment of how much authority the state has in providing federal assistance to refugee groups but hasn't made a final determination, senior officials said. Regardless, local religious leaders and activists are expecting a family of seven from Syria to arrive Monday in northern New Jersey, one of the first to come since the Nov. 13 terror attacks in Paris.

Is New Jersey going to identify these Syrians?  Perhaps round them up and forcibly detain them, then put them on a train outbound from New Jersey to Anywhere Else, U.S.A?  Is that what we are going to see?  This isn't even resettling them in places where they can be isolated; this is refusing them the right to live here at all, a right of residency no state has the power to refuse.  The next logical step is to refuse to allow any convicted felons to live in New Jersey.  Why not?  It makes as much sense, and is probably more likely to protect the public, than refusing to allow 7 people the protection of a nation of immigrants, who are now a nation of xenophobes, apparently.

And as long as we're considering refugees and religion, apparently faith is faith until it's faith in people political leaders don't want to trust.  And so the Roman Catholic Greg Abbott directs state agencies to refuse to resettle Syrian refugees in Texas (probably the very same letter Chris Christie signed), and the state agencies pass the word along to NGO's in Texas, most of which are religious organizations:

“Consistent with…federal-law obligation, we now require that you provide immediately and ongoing consultation with Health and human Services Office of Immigration and Refugee Affairs regarding any plans that may exist to resettle Syrian refugees in Texas,” it reads. “We reserve the right to refuse to cooperate with any resettlement on any grounds and, until further notice, will refuse to cooperate with the resettlement of any Syrian refugees in Texas.”

“If you have any active plan to resettle Syrian refugees in Texas, please discontinue those plans immediately.”

The letters constituted a direct challenge to the work of groups such as Refugee Services of Texas, which partners with faith-based organizations such as Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, Church World Service, and Especial Migration Ministries. Faith leaders — especially Christians — in Texas and other parts of the country have spoken out repeatedly against the anti-refugee sentiment of Abbott and other Christian governors, noting that a closed-door policy to refugees flies in the face of Jesus Christ’s biblical call to “welcome the stranger.” Others have pointed out that government-subsidized faith groups typically perform the bulk of refugee resettlement in the United States, and that thwarting their work hedges dangerously close to an attack on religious liberty. 
And as I finish this, the radio tells me Greg Abbott has sent a letter to such agencies in Texas, threatening to sue any that relocate a Syrian refugee to Texas.   The way of peace is what we are searching for; except I don't think we really want to find it.  It is there; but we don't understand it.

And the question is:  do we want to understand it?

In the spirit of the season....

The state of Texas has told the International Rescue Committee in Dallas that they are in violation of their contract with the State of Texas by relocating any more Syrians into Texas.

So far the total number of Syrians relocated to the state since 2014 is 224.  There are currently some 4 million refugees outside of Syria.  Texas claims to have accepted more Syrian refugees than any other state in the union, but after Paris, even one more Syrian is a potential terrorist too far.

What the state thinks it can do is still unclear:

The executive commissioner of the state Health and Human Services Commission wrote last week to the International Rescue Committee in Dallas that failure to cooperate with the state “may result in the termination of your contract with the state and other legal action.”
Contract termination would provoke a civil action, at worst.  "Other legal action" can't mean criminal action, as that can only be carried out by the District or County attorney, and I doubt there's a DA or County Attorney in Dallas County (where IRC's Texas office is located) anxious to bring criminal charges against the IRC (whatever those charges would be).

Is it a coincidence that IRC is headquartered in New York city?  No, probably not. Nor is it chance that IRC is a large, non-Texas based, non-religiously affiliated, target.

About is playing a clever game here, if a disgusting one.  This is the federal government's position on the matter:

"States may not deny (Office of Refugee Resettlement)-funded benefits and services to refugees based on a refugee's country of origin or religious affiliation. Accordingly, states may not categorically deny ORR-funded benefits and services to Syrian refugees," wrote Robert Carey, director of the office, adding that states and agencies that do not comply would be violating the law and "could be subject to enforcement action, including suspension or termination."

The state, wisely, is not arguing with that point:

Black, the HHSC spokesman, said last week that the state “has and will continue to comply with all applicable laws governing this matter.” He added that state officials were also working to amend the state’s refugee resettlement plan.
Notice the ORR letter (as it is being called) refers to services to Syrian refugees.  The state's argument is going to be that it is not denying funds to Syrian refugees, just to the agencies that relocate Syrian refugees.  It's not a point that I think carries much legal weight, but then again I didn't expect the trial court to find that Obama didn't have the authority to refuse to deport certain persons if he chose not to use government resources that way.  I suspect Abbott is planning to go forum shopping again if the Feds decide to challenge the State of Texas on this issue.   The breach of contract claim also allows the state to say the matter is a civil one between the two parties (the state and the private agency), and no federal government issue is involved.

These are cheap legal tactics for making life difficult for the refugee agencies and doing nothing to protect the people of Texas from another 200 Syrians.  The State ultimately loses, but only after several years in court, and then only in the appellate courts, and by then the political point has been made.  Is anyone really paying attention to the fact we've hardly taken in any Syrians at all, while Europe is flooded with them?  No more than we noticed that Paris is not in North America. In both cases we think that what's happening across the Atlantic is happening in Oklahoma, and politicians like Abbott know it.

The IRC is already looking for alternate funding (they don't want to spend all their money on legal fees), and if the Feds cut off funds for refugee resettlement in Texas, it won't keep Abbott up at night. This is so ugly it's making me think wistfully of the days when Rick Perry was in the Governor's mansion.  This is a "win" in the way the Governor of Alabama "won" against Planned Parenthood, which the State of Alabama now has to pay the attorney's fees PP incurred to get the State to do what it was legally obligated to do.  No matter, of course, "because all that sweet evangelical cash from all those sweet suckers in the piney-woods prayer shacks will continue to bankroll his campaigns, and they will all turn out to vote for him the next time he runs."  "He" in the sentence being Gov. Bentley or Gov. Abbott; doesn't matter, they're fully interchangeable at this point.

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